5 Ways We Sabotage Our Health Goals

by Jim Cotta
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5 Ways We Sabotage Our Health Goals

If the scale isn’t showing you the numbers you’d like to see or you’re not making the strides you expected fitness-wise, it’s time to take a step back to unearth some of the “hidden” habits that could be hampering your success.

1. Underestimate how many calories you are consuming. You must expend more energy (calories) than you take in to lose weight, period. If you don’t, you won’t lose weight and you won’t win. How do you know if you are eating the right amount of food to lose weight? You keep track of your eating. Yes, that means counting calories. Sure, you can guess, and you’re likely to be wrong! The average person underestimates their daily calories by as much as 600 per day.

2. Overestimate how many calories you are burning. The best way to know for sure how many calories you are burning off is to either (a) wear a heart rate monitor that calculates calories burned or (b) log your workouts onto a system like MyFitnessPal. But I really like option (c): Do both! Wear a heart rate monitor that calculates your calories and log them.

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3. Don’t get enough sleep. Research in the American Journal of Human Biology suggests that people with shorter sleep cycles (and who might be sleep deprived) have a higher BMI (body mass index) than those who get adequate sleep. Why is this? Researchers believe that sleep deprivation increases levels of a hormone called ghrelin, which signals that the body is hungry. On the flip side, it decreases leptin, which signals that the body is full. Not to mention that since you’re dragging throughout the day, you are more likely to eat sugar-filled foods to try to get you over a midday slump. Lack of sleep can also lead to skipping workouts because you’re too tired. Now if you are waking up a bit earlier to exercise, that’s a good thing, but just make sure you are getting enough sleep so that you have the energy and motivation to get your workout in.

4. Binge on healthy foods. Just because something is healthy doesn’t make it calorie free. Actually some healthy foods and snacks like granola and avocados are quite calorie dense. So with that in mind, go back and reread number one on this list again. Track your calories.

5. Mistake thirst for hunger. Are you really hungry, or do you just need something to drink? This is a question you should ask yourself before stuffing your face with food. Mild dehydration can trigger feelings of hunger. When you stay hydrated, your appetite decreases because your body is getting what it needs (hydration); thus, you maintain a feeling of being satisfied. So try chugging a big glass of water before each meal or when you find yourself craving things you know you shouldn’t be eating.

Excerpted from “Men’s Health Workout War” by Jim Cotta. Copyright (c) 2015 by Rodale Inc. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold.


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  • Scott

    Number four seems the most common on the forum. I lose track of the number of people who insist they ‘eat healthy’ but can’t understand why they aren’t losing weight. Another common occurrence seems to be people being overly vague when logging. For example rather than weighing a banana they’ll just find a generic banana entry and go off that. Now considering a banana can come in a whole range of sizes, over time that’s all going to add up.

  • Katherine

    I think number 1 is key. For example, a tbls of olive oil is 120 calories, so misjudging how much you use for salad dressings or cooking can add up over time. Getting a kitchen scale can also be very helpful.

    • TVP

      I got an electric kitchen scale on amazon for less than a fiver and it’s incredibly accurate – I use it all the time (with a notepad, pen, and my phone calculator) when cooking to get an accurate calorie count! Once you get into the swing of it you get used to it and it’s not a major inconvenience.

  • Knurl

    Number two is a good one. Myfitnesspal often overestimates burnt calories.

  • What an insightful list of refreshers on why people fail to reach their goals. I have a feeling that I struggle with #1 — but I’ve gotten much better the last year. I don’t really set ‘goals’ as much as I commit to processes(so: I will eat healthy everyday,etc,etc rather than loose weight by X.)

    When you mentioned mistaking thirst for hunger I had to comment, because it’s such a huge part of why people make these mistakes…

    If you’re feeling hungry but you haven’t drank in quite some time then you should always assume your thirsty, and most of all commit to drinking whenever you first feel hungry, eating 30 minutes later if you’re still hungry.

    Plus, hunger is a hormonal response, which is something I hadn’t known before, so that “hunger” feeling is often just a hormone saying, “feed me!” even though you aren’t “in need” of food.

    Thanks again!